Democracy During a Pandemic: Securing the 2020 Presidential Election with Nate Persily

With a vaccine and effective treatment still months away, it is increasingly likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will fundamentally change the 2020 presidential election. After the Wisconsin primary in April reportedly with low turnout and, as recently was reported, the spread of the virus, can in-person voting happen safely? Is mail-in balloting the answer? Here to help us understand how a  secure November election can be planned is election law expert Nate Persily.

This episode originally aired on SiriusXM on April 25, 2020.

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Stanford Law's Nate Persily on Securing the 2020 Election 1
Democracy During a Pandemic

In this episode of Stanford Legal, hosts Pam Karlan and Joe Bankman are joined by Stanford Law professor Nate Persily. The trio discuss the potential effects and ramifications that COVID-19 could have on the upcoming election in November. In particular, they focus on the possibility of several states shifting to either an entirely or majority vote-by-mail system instead of traditional physical polling places.

“So, by mail is an answer, and different states are better or less well-situated to make that transition. And so you have to have a significant number of voters shift to vote-by-mail, even if you are going to open polling places at the same time,” says Persily, highlighting the importance of vote-by-mail in an era where social distancing is critical to protect the health and safety of polling place workers.

Persily also mentioned that it’s unlikely that there will be no physical polling places in November, due to the importance of a voter’s ability to return or cancel their ballot on election day. However, any physical polling places will need to be well equipped to handle the effects of COVID-19, such as anticipating lines six times longer than usual and having protective gear for the polling workers. “The average age of a polling worker in the USA is 70 years old and so a lot of them will not be willing to serve on election day, so we need to find a reservoir some poll workers,” says Persily.

Persily has also been working with a project known as the Healthy Voting Project along with a colleague from MIT, which aims to improve voting practices across the board. “So, we think there is a need for some nonpartisan and bipartisan expertise among academics and former election officials to try to provide the best practices so that states and localities can use them as well as to provide direct services to any state and county that wants it.” Mentioning the uncertain effects the pandemic is to have on the election, Persily believes that some of the changes made during this election cycle will likely be permanent.

—Max Smith

Nate Persily on Stanford Legal Podcast